Article Category Archives: Poetry & Audio

The Stations of Her Loss

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Portrait of the Artist’s Mother by Barbara Bickle

 

The Stations of Her Loss

1st

It came with first breath,
with a baptism from holy waters, with a slap
that knocked you into the noise of time.

It came, as always, with numbered
fingers and toes, a severed cord, a split brain,
division and oblivion;
a gift and a loss.

It came with a thud, like book to lectern—
oh, but it was good,
(while it lasted) no denying that—
you loved your gift so
much that you played it always
and everywhere, even in bed
as you whispered prayers.

2nd

For years, there were hints of loss,
but you ignored them,
in a long game of pretend;
you played your persona,
never letting on your uncertainty,
that you were losing your grip—
if your lines stayed smooth, how would anyone know?
You still wore your charms then, didn’t you?

3rd

You lost a name, a date,
a battle, a pastry, so what?
When you lost your own grandchild,
that was harder to reconcile—
better to make light of it,
like children, play hide-and-go-seek,
words disappearing
and yet retrievable, a-a-a-a-a-a-
game of time!

4th

What to do about the loss of conjugation,
the mangling of order and place?
Yes, a dog can follow commands;
curl into a ball, roll over, lie flat;
but no dog ever baked a pie.
What is the use of argument?
You pled harmony; I begged particulars.
Summertime, we picked strawberries:
me, the soft furred fruits; you, the firm green hearts.
I was the little brown berry of your brood;
the others had their own inflections—
did you forget that?

5th

Forgetting you forgot
brought you back to innocence,
to a time of laughter;
your speech became a marvel of invention:
word-bits strung in rapid chains
with an ease any rapper would envy.
I would snatch at the scatterings;
if I didn’t try for syntax,
you made more sense:
mac-adam-tar-mac-adam-madam-dam-mac-aroni—
Our Lady of the Mirror shares communion.

6th

You tossed your words like salad
and the wind caught the chaff;
you spit out your dentures
when they cluttered your mouth.
Only sticky words stuck;
snippets of song—
enpapapapa Lorraine,
dadadadada dondaine…
It was a time for dancing:
oh, oh, oh,
avec mes sabots!

You danced the day, you danced the night, out the door
and through the woods, until you found
a small safe house to hold you.

7th

Your joints jammed and your limbs locked:
You lost the spring, but kept the fall.
Down, down, down.
We propped you in a chair.
There, there, there.
When I massaged your shoulders,
it was like kneading boulders.
“Ahhh, yahhhh,” you sighed, sweet nothings.
You could still kiss.
There was still time for love-making.

8th

We found you sitting at your bedside,
blathering to dolls.
We drew our chairs around you;
storytime: your face raced from one plot to another,
grinning, then glaring, then gleaming.
You would find a syllable and ride it,
up and up and up
and down,
up and up and up—
You had a voice that could fill a cathedral.
Your roommates, mercifully, were deaf.

9th

And when all your syllables were lost,
you still had sound.
When the nurses phoned me with updates,
I could hear your voice from down the hall:
raw, elemental, untiring.
I was embarrassed;
I wondered what others must think of you.
I did not realize that you were divining;
keening your own wake
in your mother tongue.

10th

Pneumonia, that old-time
friend gripped your chest.
You groaned and thrashed, desperate
it looked, to escape your skin.
The nurses offered opioid blessings.
And while I sang the saints,
you passed to silence.

 

“The Stations of Her Loss” read by Holly Tsun Haggarty

Face

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Buzzing by Flavia Testa

 

Face

“The soul, which is spirit , cannot dwell in dust; it is carried along to dwell in blood.”
St. Augustine, The Confessions

My figment, my flirt, my false friend,
who do you favour? What’s your fee? You can depend
on craters and valleys and friction
to warn — you will not be able to flaunt your fiction
forever. You are mine. Though you and I
have different views and count different lines with sly
and varying perspectives. I no longer know when the race
began or why I culled what I culled and left so much to waste,
my colourful, wilting mourning glory. When you stop guarding
your story what will you regard? See what comes of hoarding.
Close your eyes for an instant in the fermenting fields of the South
and railroad tracks stream down the sides of your mouth.
Still, don’t the lines that brace your eyes when you smile proclaim, not grace
exactly as the train speeds, but a moment of no death in the face of the face.

 

 

“Face” read by Carole Glasser Langille

Words Fail Me

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Autumn by Phyllis Koppel

 

Words Fail Me

Snow is falling in my brain, gentle,
relentless. It starts with a small silence,

a gap
in the easy rhythm of talk. A familiar word fails

to arrive.
Bewildered by the changing landscape,

beginning to be frightened, I push on,
awkwardly: hard to keep up

appearances. Listeners glance away, pretend
not to notice, or supply quick replacements, share

their own stories of missing nouns. Cold comfort
to think this a preparation for death,

a gradual letting go of words, mind,
their interplay, once so full of colour,

like                      those trees in fall, leaves
red, red-gold — what are they called? —

I used to know the Latin name —
now smothered in blank white.

Surely I am not so far from home, have known
these woods since childhood, found

gifts of chanterelles, black trumpets — ah!
I think I recognize a known thing, plunge

grateful hands into                      a drift.

 

“Words Fail Me” read by Janet Barkhouse

 

Granny

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I am an old woman made of deposited salt

My bloodline runs authentically hot

I hail from perpetual sunrise

Where battle is real and peace treaties are lies

Spent decades on my feet and kept my house clean

Raised chickens and children under rule of British Queen

Voyaged across the Atlantic through treacherous middle passage reef

Found rocky shores of New Scotland, Tancook cabbage, and bully beef

Built a home away from home using scraps of knotted lumber

Felled trees of hard knocks and hard won my short slumber

A product of survival and scarcity

Grandmother of plenty rude pickney

Like dis pretty likkle one here, just turn 23, Say she goes to uni-ver-sity

Schooled in critical feminism & fancy race theory

I was never taught to be critical of my history

Had no time to figure out philosophy, found maths a bit too ‘calculacy

So I took a slow minute to count one to ‘tree

Summed up my children on hands and knee

While she waxes her big people degree, tongue wagging ‘bout colonial austerity

Says my folklore Fante faith is a practice of fu-ti-lity

That my cataract vision lacks clarity

But I can still clearly see and feel the scars of hypocrisy

My Ashanti people pioneered absent terrains of de-territory

Withstood no vacancies and no jobs here sorry

The mystery of my history she breaks down for me

The metalanguage of race she translates haughtily for equality

Granny she says with strong chin

interpreting for me Code Noir of French and British imperialism

She gestures cut eye and kiss teeth how us Caribbean folk behave:

Old woman you are so much more now than a glorified nurse maid

You were recruited for academic merit and skilled employability

Visas are no longer denied based on race and nationality.

One thing I do know from the years of looking back

If I ever fixed my mouth to talk to grown woman like ‘dat

my mouth and ‘ma tail would have get slap

I would have felt the rod on my seat of my education

What ‘dis girl know ‘bout involuntary disciplinary participation?

I tell her: no matter how biggity you feel in that self-labeled identity

Or turn up your wide nose to capitalist prosperity

how hard you kick the gift horse of liberty

Sweet girl I’ll still give you one lesson for free

One you can take very personally

Ole Granny can still bend you over her knee

Look chile there in the dark hollow of yonder tree

the ship gallow where they stacked and chained whole villages quite legally

Little Black Sambos for the new community

refused us education spare needlework and carpentry

See there where that resilient little Birch tree bends

And the pristine whiteness that lies where the treetop descends

The trail of broken canoes in the shallow pockets of promised land

The broken spirits on soil that cyaan grow banana and yam

Where at the promised treetop is the place for we?

From the frozen North we will never pick mango or sweet dilly

This short summer can never warm to Linton’s dub poetry

Shaded by the cursed penmanship of dead poet society

You and all your education

Come from the humanities of feeder school segregation

The backs of many Jamaicans laboured and toiled that great hill

For your high and mighty city view from the Citadel

Sweet girl you can’t hypothesize centuries of genocide

Millions enslaved and severed from land and family ties

Gold Coast of golden plantain plundered for plantation crops

Tribal nations reduced to concubines and sweatshops

Our history isn’t something you can feel from a newly written book

Cuz you don’t know the real story until all your facts gets took

You think I’m subservient because I’m so neat and quiet

What you know about the necessity of riot?

18th century Nova Scotia kept thousands residentially and mentally enslaved

Parliament sowed sloppy seeds wherever it forcefully laid

You’re the light skinned reminders insidious attention paid

Book of Negroes and church obits the only clue to how most of us were made

And even those can’t be fully trusted

Language preserved in code to allude Colonel Mustard

We didn’t have material resources

Faith and education were not at all easy choices

But if we learned anything from 140 years of Trelawney Maroon strategy

Even more than the hard lesson of coerced policy

It’s that we were free before the bondage of subsidy

Daughters of mountaineers and Dahomey warrior brides

Revolts of British colony and evangelical Baptist scribes

“Come-from away” culture passed on through artistic oral history

Social work and scientific achievements are buried in mystery

So before you try to wrinkle my starched Sunday wear

Just know I ironed my burdens with care

Laid them down with righteous song and tearful prayer

Weaved my worries into baskets from scraps of birch tree

Carried life and love for all of you pickney

Now you come with plaited weave to tell me ‘bout my history

But what do I know? I’m just an old woman of deposited salt

Whose bloodline runs authentically hot

Hail from the lifted head to the perpetual sunrise

Where the battle is real and peace treaties are lies

Beauty

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Beauty your nigger-knots are
                         unmanageable
we’ll have to comb them down
s t r a i g h t
                         but they’re tricky with
resilience, they’d rather hang loose
curling up from their roots.

What about braids with pretty beads?

Nappy twists won’t do
Let’s straighten it flat.

It will undo.

No, it will take the kink away from you.

I love how it curls–

But you have such a pretty-pale face Beauty,
It’s hard to see you through this pile of bush.

… But     I     see me.

Shh hush now.
R e l a x      as      I      permanently
take away the ack from your
blackness
and     leave     you
BLACK LESS

                         sit.
                                                  stay.
                                                                           wait.

The white will
burn me away.

You have good hair     now     Beauty
The ugly is pressed down
If only we could do something about your tongue.